GLIMPSES OF THE HISTORY
OLD PAXTANG CHURCH
An Address Delivered at the 150th Anni-
versary OP the Laying the Corner-
Stoxe of the Present Church,
WILLIAM HENRY EGLE, M. D.
HAKEISBUEG PUBLISHINO COMPANY.
PASTORS OF PAXTANG.
1726-1732. Rev. James Anderson.
1732-1736. Rev. William Bertram.
1738-1792. Rev. John Elder.
1793-1796. Rev. Nathaniel R. Snowden.
1799-1801. Rev. Joshua Williams.
1807-1843. Rev. James R. Sharon.
1845-1847. Rev. John M. Boggs.
1850-1874. Rev. Andrew D. Mitchell.
1875-1878. Rev. William W. Downey.
1878-1887. Rev. William A. West. (Supply.)
1887- Rev. Albert B. Williamson, (the present
GLIMPSES OF THE HISTORY OF OLD
Before I proceed to deliver these glimpses of the
history of this ancient congregation, permit me to en-
ter my protest against the orthography of the name on
the printed invitation and programme. The corrup-
tion of the name Paxtang should not be continued. It
is a clerical mistake in more senses than one. If others
have committed the error, why shall we perpetuate it.
Give us the good old Indian name, Paxtang, and not
the English surname, Paxton — however much we may
admire some who bear that patronymic.
Friends op Paxtang: It is well "to remember the
daj^s of old" — to call to mind the history of a people
such as we have been summoned to do this bright au-
tumnal noon, within the shadows of an edifice made
memorable by age, and by the sacred associations
which cluster around it. We do not come to celebrate
misty traditions which have floated down to us on the
stream of time, but the real achievements of pioneers in
American religious and civil history. For one hundred
and fifty years has prayer been made and praise been
offered in this old stone meeting-house, and as thought
goes out to the saintly men who ministered to the
8 Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
generations here, it seems as if some portion of the
subtle essence of all the soul-longings for heavenly
help and guidance which here has been breathed forth
by righteous men and pious women during these many
decades, has entered into the very fabric of this ancient
church and thus sanctified it. Happy are that people
who. having a noble history, treasure it ; and with this
inspiration for mind and heart, we come to do rever-
The first settlers in all this neighborhood, with but
one exception, came from the north of Ireland — the
province of Ulster. They have been termed the Scotch-
Irish — Scotch planters on Irish soil. "They call us
Scotch-Irish and other ill-mannered names," wrote
good old Parson Elder, but that epithet of reproach
has become the synonym of a people characteristic of
all that is noble and grand in our American history.
Recently published works, the authors of which are
not worthy being named in this connection, have de-
nounced the Scotch-Irish as a race, without reference
to authority or facts. The reproach and opprobium
thus cast upon the ancestors of the people who did so
mucli for the improvement and prosperity of the Prov-
ince of Pennsylvania, and for the defense of civil and
religious liberty, as well as for the free institutions and
the independence of the Republic, are at variance with
all that is generally received as matter of historical
truth. The accusations and reproaches, if unfounded.
Paxtang Presbyterian Church. 9
ought to be refuted, and the character of the men who
deserved well of society and their country should be
But so much has been said of the Scotch-Irish race,
that at this time we will only incidently refer to that
people. The " Planting of Ulster " with the Scotch settlers
is an important epoch, in not only the history of Ireland,
but in the establishment of Presbyterianism. Their
life in that country was rendered as brief as it was
memorable by the rapacity and greed of landlords, by
the " test act," which deprived them from holding
any public office, and by the petty annoyances of
prelacy. Wonder we then, that, in the early part of the
eighteenth century, many of the counties of the north
of Ireland were emptied of their Scotch inhabitants.
Wearied out with exactions, ecclesiastical courts, and
the deprivation of their civil rights, they came to
America for a wider breathing space — that America
which was opening wide its doors, and especially the
Province of Pennsylvania, where there was less of the
spirit of intolerance than in any of the colonies. Here
they found a home — here all men were equal under the
law. Is it surprising, therefore, that the Scotch-Irish
should have prospered on this soil ? Our grand old
Commonwealth owes much of what she is to-day by
and through the settlement of that sturdy race — and
I am not ashamed to say it — albeit I claim another
ancestry and another faith ; and like my friend, the
10 Paxtanct Presbyterian Church.
Governor of the Commonwealth, am only Scotch-
Irish through my children. But the historic facts
are apparent to all who read. In the struggle for popu-
lar rights, the Scotch-Irish are ever to be found on the
side of the people ; and as we go on, we find that here, as
elsewhere, in the period of great events, they rise up as
leaders — characterized by boldness, energy, integrity,
morality, and religious fervor, although at times with
a bigoted and belligerent spirit. Can I say more?
Yes ! But we must proceed.
The first Presbyterian ministers who preached here,
were Gillespie, Evans, Boyd, and Anderson. The first
named was born at Glasgow in 1683, and educated at
the University there. He was licensed by the Presby-
tery in 1712, came to America, and was ordained May
28, 1713, having received a call from the people of
White Clay Creek. Red Clay, Lower Brandywine, and
White Clay seem to have formed his charge for several
years. He organized the congregation at the head of
Christiana, which he served until his death in 1760.
The Rev. Francis Alison, who knew him, called him
" that pious saint of God." As early as 1715, Mr. Gil-
lespie missionated as far as Paxtang. The country was
sparsely settled — possibly not more than five or six
families north of the Swatara — but these, with the ex-
ception of John Harris, an Indian trader, were Scotch-
The Rev. David Evans, of Welsh birth, was ordained
Paxtang Presbyterian Church. 11
November 3, 1714, and became pastor of the Welsh
tract, in New Castle county, Delaware. In 1719 he
went into the Great Valley, Chester county, and in
1720 regularly supplied the people of Tredyffrin, and
was sent by the Presbytery to the Octorara,* forks of
Brandywine, and Conestoga, extending his ministra-
tions "to Donegal and beyond," to what subsequently be-
came the bounds of Paxtang and Derry churches.
Upon the appointment of Rev. Adam Boydf to the
pastorate of Octorara — the far western bounds, "Done-
gal and beyond," were confided to him. This was in
1724, when a small log meeting-house had been pre-
viously built not many feet south of the present stone
building. Then the devout Anderson, of Donegal, fol-
lowed and labored, as the tide of Presbyterianism
rolled westward — and from this time onward, until the
thunders of the Revolution reverberated along these
valleys, the tramp and tread of the Scotch-Irish army
Prior to 1722, the following, with their families,
were members of what was shortly after Paxtang con-
* Samuel Evans, of Lancaster, says : "This was commonly called Mid-
dle Octoraro, it is in Bart township, Lancaster county, it was organized
in 1726, and in October, 1727, the Rev. Adam Boyd was ordained
pastor, and he gave the congregation one sixth of his time."
fRev. Adam Boyd was born in 1692 at Ballymoney, Ireland, and
emigrated to New England in 1723 as a probationer. In July, 1724,
he was received under the care of New Castle Presbytery and sent to
Octorara. He died November 23, 1768.
12 Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
gregation; Thomas Gardner, Samuel Means, David
McClure, Thomas Kyle, James Roddy, Alexander
Hutchmson, William Maybane, Robert Brown, Samuel
Smith, Joseph Kelso, Sen., and Thomas Simpson. Flee-
ing from civil oppression, in their new homes it is not
suprising that these people hastened to manifest their
thankfulness to God, and their sincerity and regard
for their privileges under a government of free institu-
tions, by erecting a " meeting-house," dedicated to His
holy service. Around this log structure were the
graves of the early pioneers, but these remained un-
marked. Seventy years ago, it is stated on the best of
authority, there was a rudely chiseled head-stone, with
the date of departure, 1716 ; which simply proves that
this revered spot was chosen for the worship of God at
that early period. In gathering up the fragments of
the history of Paxtang Church, it is to be regretted that
the minutes of the Presbytery of Philadelphia from
1717 to 1733 are declared lost ; while the minutes of
New Castle Presbytery from its organization in 1716
to the constituting of Donegal are not to be found, al-
though we have the assurance that they were in exist-
ence in 1876. It is well to guard the early records of
the Church, but why refuse examination of them to
those making historic researches ? The truthful histo-
rian knows full well what to use and what to omit, and
if my Presbyterian friends will not allow those outside
the pale of their ministry to go over the early records
Paxtang Presbyterian Church. 13
of the Presbyteries of Philadelphia, New Castle, and
Donegal, they should place them in the hands of some
faithful co-laborer who knows what to edit and what
to let alone. In the history of institutions, as well as
of individuals, there may be blots which ought to re-
main so forever.
By direction of New Castle Presbytery, the Rev.
James Anderson,* in 1726, gave one fifth of his time to
Paxtang, and in 1729, commenced to supply Derry
regularly, one fifth being there allowed — leaving Don-
egal but three fifths.
On the 11th of October, 1732, the Presbytery of Don-
egal was constituted out of a portion of the Presbytery
of New Castle. The meeting was held at Donegal
church. The ministers present were, Messrs. Anderson,
Thomson, Boyd, Orr, and Bertram, Mr. Thomson was
elected moderator, and Mr. Bertram clerk. The first
item of business brought before the new Presbytery of
Donegal was in relation to Paxtang and Derry. These
churches having united in a call to the Rev. William
Bertram, which had been placed in his hands at the
last meeting of the then " old " New Castle Presbytery.
George Renick and others of Paxtang and Derry ap-
peared and required an answer thereto. Mr. Bertram
accepted, and was installed November 15, 1732, at
* For a full sketch of the Rev. James Anderson, and a record of his
descendants, see " Pennsylvania Genealogies," under "Anderson of
14 Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
Swatara, the original name of Derry Church. Thomas
Forster, George Renick, William Cunningham, and
Thomas Mayes were appointed for the Paxtang side,
and Rowland Chambers, Hugh Black, Robert Camp-
bell, John Wilson, William Wilson, James Quigley,
William McCord, and John Sloan for the Derry side,
to assist Mr. Bertram in congregational affairs until the
erection of a formal session.
At the meeting of Presbytery at Upper Octorara,
September 6, 1733, " Mr. Bertram presented a list of
men nominated by the congregations of Paxtang and
Derry to be set apart for ruling elders. Presbytery
ordered that th^ be again published, and intimation
given that if any objection be made against any of them,
said objection be given in diie time."
The amount of subscription to Mr. Bertram's salary
does not appear, but the congregation, in addition
thereto, made over to him and his heirs their " right
and title to the plantation commonly called ' The In-
dian Town,' purchased from the Indians."
Hitherto, and until 1736, Paxtang and Derry were
considered simply as two branches of the same congre-
gation ; this arrangement was unwieldly, and gave rise
to various disputes and misunderstandings about finan-
cial matters. They had fallen into arrears with Mr.
Anderson, and were ordered no less than five times, at
as many different meetings of Presbytery, " to pay up ;"
difficulty was experienced in getting all parts of the
Paxtang Presbyterian Church. 15
congregation to contribute their just dues towards the
repairs of Mr. Bertram's house, and to defray the ex-
penses of a law-suit about certain sawed plank or
boards. These and other troubles of a like nature were
a source of annoyance to both congregations, as well as
to Mr. Bertram ; so much so that at Nottingham, October
9, 1735, Mr. Bertram and his elders united in asking
Presbytery to appoint a committee " to go into and
reason with the people of said congregations and inquire
into their circumstances, as to their ability to be sepa-
rated into two distinct bodies and support themselves,
in order that Mr. Bertram, being eased of part of his
burden, may be able to go on with more comfort in the
discharge of his duty to whichever part of said people
he shall be determined to continue with."
A committee was appointed and reported to Presby-
tery November 20, 1735. Accompanying their report
they presented a supplication from the session asking
for a division, and that their bounds might be fixed.
At the same time, Lazarus Stewart prosecuted a suppli-
cation from Manada Creek (Hanover) for a new erection.
The subject of a separation between Paxtang and Derry
was postponed from one Presbytery to another, until
finally on the 2d of September, 1736, it was agreed to.
So popular was Mr. Bertram with his people that both
parties were anxious to secure his services, Paxtang
engaging to pay for his yearly support sixty pounds,
"one-half in money, the other half in hay, flax, linen
16 Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
yarn, or linen cloth, at market price." Derry prom-
ised fifty-five pounds, to be paid in like manner. Mr.
Bertram was perplexed, and asked for time to consider.
Presbytery gave him to the next meeting of Synod,
which took place on the 16th of September. Owing
probabl}^ either to the location of his farm, or the ex-
tent of the church glebe, he chose Derry, and Paxtang
was declared vacant. From this date, until December
22, 1738, the congregation was supplied by Messrs.
Sankey, Alexander, Craven, and Elder.
In 1729, the Synod passed "the adopting act," by
which assent to the Westminster Confession of Faith
was required by all members of the Synod, and of
all candidates for admission to the Presbyteries. This
confirmation of a principle had its opponents, and it
is in connection with this, that we find, in the year
1736, mention of this congregation in the confirmatory
act or declaration which seems at least for the time to
have produced general satisfaction. In the minutes for
that year it is recorded, that, "An overture of the com-
mittee, upon the supplication of the people of Paxtang
and Derry, was brought in, and is as followeth : That
the Synod do declare that inasmuch as we understand
that many persons of our persuasion, both more lately
and formally, have been offended with some expres-
sions or distinctions in the first or preliminary act of
our Synod for adopting the Westminster Confession
and Catechism, etc.; that in order to remove said of-
Paxtang Presbyterian Church. 17
fense and all jealousies that have arisen or may arise
in any other people's minds on occasion of said dis-
tinctions and expressions, the Synod doth declare, that
the Synod have adopted and still do adhere to the
Westminster Confession, Catechisms, and Directory,
without the least variation or alteration, and without
any regard to said distinctions. And we do farther
declare this was our meaning and true intent in our
first adopting the said Confession, as may particularly
appear by our adopting act, which is as follows : ' All
the ministers of the Synod now present [which were
eighteen in number,] except one who declared himself
not prepared, after proposing all the scruples that any
of them had to make against any articles and expres-
sions in the Confession of Faith and larger and shorter
Catechisms of the assembly of divines at Westminster,
have unanimously agreed in the solution of those
scruples, and in declaring the said Confession and Cat-
echisms, to be the Confession of their Faith, except
only some clauses in the twentieth and twenty-third
chapters, concerning which clauses, the Synod do
unanimously declare, that they do not receive those
articles in any such sense as to suppose the civil magis-
trate hath controlling power over Synods with respect
to the exercise of their ministerial authority, or power
to persecute any for their religion, or in any sense con-
trary to the Protestant succession to the throne of Great
Britain.' And we do hope and desire, that this, our
18 Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
synodical declaration and explanation may satisfy all
our people as to our firm' attachment to our good old
received doctrines contained in the said Confession,
without the least variation or alteration, and that they
will lay aside their jealousies, that have been entertained
through occasion of the above hinted expressions and
declarations as groundless. This overture approved
On the 22d of December, 1738, the Rev. John Elder
was ordained and installed the pastor of Paxtang
congregation, (having served over a year as a supply,)
at a salary of sixty pounds, and so for a period of fifty-
five years went in and out before the people minister-
ing to their spiritual wants. For that duration of time,
(over half a century,) the history of this church and
of its pastor is a part of the history of the Province
of Pennsylvania, and in order to be brief, permit me
simply to summarize the leading events. Some of
these are of great moment, but not at this time and
place will more than a passing glance or review be
Within the church in common there transpired much
also of interest. Although from the period referred to,
(1738,) the growth was truly phenomenal — not only of
Paxtang, but of Presbyterianism in general, yet the
harmony of the governing bodies began to be inter-
fered with, owing to the fact that " its ministers were
from different countries, where to some extent different
Paxtang Presbyterian Church. 19
modes of thinking on the same subjects prevailed.
The points on which the difference of opinion chiefly
developed itself, were the examination of candidates
for the ministry on experimental religion, the strict ad-
herence to Presbyterial order, and the amount of learn-
ing to be required by those who sought ministerial of-
fice. These subjects were discussed with great, and fre-
quently with intemperate, zeal in the different Presby-
teries." Two distinct parties were now formed. Those
who were more zealous for orthodoxy — for the rigid
observance of Presbyterial rule, and for a thoroughly
educated ministry, were called the " Old Side," while
those who were more tolerant of departures from ec-
clesiastical order and less particular in respect to other
qualifications for the ministry, provided they gave
evidence of vital piety, were called the "New Side" or
As might be expected, there was a growing necessity
for the education of the ministry, and the result was
the establishment of the College of New Jersey by the
Synod of New York — first at Elizabethtown, in 1746 ;
removed the following year to Newark ; and thence to
Princeton, in 1757. The "Old Side" patronized the
academies of New London and of Newark, in Delaware,
under the Rev. Francis Alison and Rev. Alexander
McDowell, and also the academy and college of Phila-
delphia. The rivalry between these literary institutions
20 Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
served to render more intense the mutual hostility of
the two parties.
In 1739 the celebrated Whitefield paid his second
visit to America. In connection with his labors, a great
revival ensued, the friends of which in the Presbyterian
church were chiefly with the "New Side," while the
^'Old Side," or strict Presbyterian, perceiving some
really censurable irregularities in the active friends
and promoters of the revival, pronounced the whole a
delusion. This brought on the crisis. The controversy
waxed more and more violent until 1741, when the
church was rent into two parts, the "Old Side" consti-
tuting the Synod of New York.
Soon after Mr. Elder began his labors in Paxtang, it
was found that the old log structure was insufficient,
and steps were taken toward the erection of the present
building. It stands about twenty feet back from the
site of the original meeting-house, and was begun in
the year 1740. It was several years before completion,
and was occupied for a long time as a house of worship
with neither floor nor pews; seats made of logs hewn
on one side were used by all the people excepting the
family of the pastor, who occupied a settee. The origi-
nal meeting-house for many years was used as a retir-
ing and session house by Mr. Elder, and late in life so
deferential were the congregation to their revered min-
ister, that on his passage from this building to the
Paxtang Presbyterian Church. 21
stone church, and upon retiring, all heads were un-
covered and bowed.
Although we stated on a former occasion that the
Rev. Mr. Bertram remained pastor of Derry congrega-
tion until his death, in 1746, we find, that owing to ill-
health, he relinquished the care of that people, and in
the latter part of 1745 the Rev. John Roan came to be
its minister. It was not, however, until the year 1754
that the dissensions between Old and New Sideism re-
sulted in the division of the congregations at Paxtang
and Derry ; although both Roan and Elder had pre-
viously drawn the lines. The Rev. Mr. Elder and a
large majority of his people adopting the " Old Side"
views, remained in possession of the property. The
" New Side" people of Derry, being in a majority at
Derry, with their pastor, the Rev. John Roan, " held
the fort" at that place. The " New Side" portion of
Paxtang took sides with Roan, while the " Old Side"
members of Derry clung to Elder. This fully explains
the following call to the Rev. Mr. Elder, of the date of
26th September, 1754, and signed by one hundred
and twenty-eight communicants of Derry and Paxtang :
" To the Reverend Mr. John Elder :
"Sir — We, the inhabitants in the Township & Con-
gregation of Paxtang & Derry, Being now Destitute of
a settled Gospel minister amongst us ; Being also Deeply
Sensible of the great loss & Disadvantage we & ours
may sustain, In regard of our souls & spiritual Con-
22 Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
cerns by our living in such a Condition in this Wilder-
ness ; & having had Sufficient Proof of, & being well
pleased & satisfied with the ministerial abilities &
qualifications of y'u, the Revd. Jno. Elder, Do unani-
mously Invite and Call y'u to take the Pastoral Care
& oversight of us, Promising all due subjection, sub-
mission & obedience to the Doctrine, Discipline &
Government & Ordinances Exercised & administered
By y'u as our Pastor in the Lord. And that y'u may
be the Better Enabled to attend upon y'r Pastoral &
ministerial work amongst us, without Anxious and
Distracting Cares about y'r worldly Concerns, We Do
hereby Cheerfully Promise & Engage to take Care of
y'r Support and maintenance for an Honourable &
Creditable manner Suitable to & befitting y'r Honour-
able Function & office as a Minister of the Gospel of
Jesus Christ amongst us ; Knowing that the Lord hath
ordained that they who Preach the Gospel should live
by the Gospel."*
In testimony of all w'h we have hereunto Subscribed
our Names This 26th of September, 1754.
Thos. fforster. David Walker.
Wm. Armstrong. Robert Chambers.
John Harris. Moses Dickey.
Thos. McArthur. William Stoe.
James Wallace. Thomas Simpson.
*Thi8 Call is in the possession of the Dauphin County Historical
Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
John Wiggins, jr.
Robert Chambers, jr.
Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
Paxtang Presbyterian Church. 25
Joe Suoddy. David Jamison.
Robert Harris. Robert AValker.
The " New Side" people of Paxtang secured two acres
of land about two miles east of this, and immediately
erected thereon a rival church, at which, and that at
Derry, Mr. Roan continued his labors until his death,
in 1775. At the same time a new impetus was given
to immigration southward and westward. When this
stone building was erected in 1740, and for ten or
fifteen years following, the church was crowded with
devout worshipers. This locality was full of young
people, active, intelligent, and enterprising. The re-
ports, however, of unsettled lands, lying far distant,
painted the south and west as being more beautiful in
their solitariness than Paxtang had been, and the chil-
dren of the Scotch-Irish settlers, like their ancestors,
sought a new home in the lovely valleys beyond the
Susquehanna, and among the rich lands of Virginia
and the Carolinas. As a matter of course, coupled with
the dissensions previously mentioned, the congrega-
tions of Paxtang and Derry wete seriously crippled.
The minutes of Donegal Presbytery from September
28, 1745, to June, 1747, and from October 9, 1750, to
June 5, 1759, having been lost, while Mr. Elder's private
papers, being also lost or inaccessible, it is somewhat
difficult to trace the history of Paxtang during this
period, probably the most trying one in its existence.
26 Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
Then followed the French and Indian war, when
pastor and people were called upon to defend their
homes against the blood-thirsty savage. Then it was
that this house became not only a place of worship to
Almighty God, but a retreat from the inroads of the
marauding red man and a dwelling-place of mercy
and a refuge from storm. " Many a family mourned
for some of their number shot by the secret foe or car-
ried away captive. Their rifles were carried with them
to their work in the field and to the sanctuary. Mr.
Elder placed his trusty piece beside him in the pulpit.
Death often overtook his flock as they returned to their
scattered plantations. In 1756 the meeting-house was
surrounded whilst he was preaching, but their spies
having counted the rifles, the Indians retired from their
ambuscade without making an attack." On another oc-
casion, in the same year, they came for the purpose of
attacking the worshipers in church, but by mistake
they arrived on Monday instead of Sunday, and after
waiting several days, finding they were discovered, left
the settlement by way of Indiantown Gap, murdering
a number of persons on the Swatara and carrying off
In the winter of 1763-64, transpired the " Paxtang
Boys " affair — the wiping out of a nest of murder-ma-
rauding Indians at Conestoga and Lancaster — and
which created such a " hub-bub " in Quakerdom, that
more pamphlets and broadsides were (tailed forth, than
Paxtang Presbyterian Church. 27
any one episode in Pennsylvania history. In this con-
troversy, the pastor and people of Paxtang became in-
volved. The story is a long but interesting one, and
there is a " rod in pickle " for some recent historians
who cannot distinguish between an arrant falsehood
and the plain truth.
On June 22, 1764, at a meeting of Presbytery held
at Derry, Mr. Elder and four other ministers declared
their intention to cease from active membership in the
judicatory. This decision was not acted upon by Synod
until May 19, 1768, when they were joined to the
Presbytery of Philadelphia, so that for about a pe-
riod of four years Paxtang was not represented in any
of the church courts. The trouble arose out of the old
party feeling of the " Old " and " New Sides," which,
notwithstanding the union, was still rampant in the
Shortly after came on the war of the Revolution, and
the men of Paxtang, who had taken an early Resolve
for Independence, went into the conflict with heart and
soul — and from Boston and Quebec, down to the close
of the struggle at Yorktown — they fought, bled, and
died for Liberty. In all the wars which have rent the
land, Paxtang was a nursery for heroes, and God grant
that the generations coming on may ever emulate the
patriotic spirit of their gallant ancestors.
Upon the formation of Carlisle Presbytery, in 1786,
Paxtang was joined thereto, and has remained in that
28 Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
connection ever since. After the death of Mr. Roan,
October 2, 1775, Paxtang and Derry were again united
solel}^ under the charge of Mr. Elder. The congrega-
tion at Harrisburg, formed April 12, 1787, was added
to Mr. Elder's charge, as was also the New Side branch
* The following papers are very important in this connection :
On Thursday, April 12th, 1787, during the sessions of the Presbytery
at Carlisle, a representation and petition of a number of the inhabitants
of Harrisburg and others in the township of Paxtang was laid before
Presbytery and read. The said representation sets forth that these peo-
ple desire to be considered as a Presbyterian Congregation, and to have
supplies appointed them by the Presbytery ; and that in order to pro-
mote peace and harmony between them and the Paxtang congregation,
some proposals had been made to, and considered, though not accepted
by that congregation, a copy of which was also laid before the Presby-
tery. Mr. Elder also gave a representation of the state of the case as
concerning these people and Paxtang congregation. The Presbytery,
upon considering the case, agreed to propose the following articles to
the consideration and acceptance of those people, which may have a
tendency to preserve peace and union in that part of the Church :
1. That Harrisburg shall be considered as the seat of a Presbyterian
Church, and part of the charge of the Rev. John Elder, in which he' is
to preach one third of his time.
2. That Mr. Elder's salary, promised by the congregation of Paxtang,
shall be continued and paid by the congregation in common, who shall
adhere to these two places of worship, viz : Paxtang and Harrisburg.
3. That the congregation thus united may apply for, and obtain sup-
plies as assistant to the labors of Mr. Elder, to be paid by the congre-
gation in common.
4. That when the congregation may judge it proper, they shall have
Paxtang Presbyterian Church. 29
On the 17th of July, 1792, the Rev. John Elder laid
by the armor of this earthly life, and entered upon his
eternal rest. Born in the city of Edinburgh, January
26, 1706, he was educated at the University there,
a right to choose and call a minister as a colleague with Mr. Elder, to
officiate in rotation with him.
" Dr. Davidson and Mr. Waugh are appointed to attend at the church
in Lower Paxtang, on tLe last Tuesday in May next, to moderate and
assist in the above matter."
On the 19th of June, 1787, Dr. Davidson and Mr. Waugh reported to
Presbytery at Big Spring, that their appointment at Paxtang had been
fulfilled, and that the following articles had been agreed to by Mr.
Elder and his congregation, at Harrisburg :
1. That the congregation shall have two stated places of public wor-
ship, the one where the Rev. Mr. Elder now officiates, the other in
2. That the Rev. John Elder shall continue to have and receive dur-
ing his life or incumbency, all the salary or stipends that he now enjoys,
to be paid by his present subscribers, as he and they may agree, and
continue his labors in Derry as usual.
3. That for the present the congregation may apply to the Presbytery
for supplies, which, when obtained, the expenses shall be defrayed by
those who do not now belong to Mr. Elder's congregation, and such as
may think proper to join with them ; and should such supplies be ap-
pointed when Mr. Elder is to be in Paxtang, then he and the supply
shall preach in rotation, the one in the country, and the other in town.
But should Mr. Elder be in Derry, then the supplies shall officiate in
4. That the congregation when able, or they think proper, may in-
vite and settle any regular Presbyterian minister they or a majority of
them may choose and can obtain, as a co-pastor with Mr. Elder, who
shall officiate as to preaching in the manner specified in the third pro-
30 Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
studied divinit}^, and in the year 1732 was licensed
to preach the Gospel, although he did not come into
the Presbytery of Donegal until October 5, 1737, and
then as a licentiate from the Presbytery of New Castle.
However that may be, he came to America following
his father's family, in the year mentioned, and yet his
only pastorate was that of Paxtang. He was a man
whose whole life reads like a romance. I regard him
as the most prominent figure in our early provincial
history. He towered far above all men in the era in
which he lived, and his name and fame will long en-
dure. The heroes of New England are but pigmies
compared with this giant. Whether we view him as a
minister of the Gospel, as a brave soldier, or in civil
life — or yet as a thinker and a man of intellectual
powers — his personalit}' was extraordinary. There was
something in his life which called forth an enthusiastic
and passionate devotion — in a few words, he was a
grand old man, an honor to the Church of Christ and
to the race of men ! If this era does not take care of
him, futurity will — for if any man was born a leader,
it was the Rev. John Elder, of Paxtang. His descend-
ants of four generations are with us to-day, to do
reverence to the church of their fathers.
Upon the death of Mr. Elder, Paxtang congregation,
after hearing various candidates, finally united with the
Derry and Harrisburg churches in a call to the Rev.
Nathaniel R. Snowden, of Philadelphia, each agreeing
Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
to pay him fi% pounds per annum.* He was installed
pastor, October 2, 1793, but finding, in 1796, the labor
of attending to three congregations too great for his
bodily strength, he relinquished Paxtang and Derry, re-
taining Harrisburg, which he served satisfactorily for
*The following is a copy of the original subscription list — but it com-
prises only the names of those present at the congregational meeting
held on the 7th of March, 1793 :
We the under subscribers do each of us promise to pay annually the
sums annexed to our names, to the trustees of Paxtang congregation,
or the collectors appointed by them, as a salary due to the Rev. Mr.
Snowden, for the one-third part of his labors amongst us, and while he
continues a regular preaching pastor in said congregation and we mem-
bers of it. Given under our hands this seventh day of March, A. D.
Jacob Awl, . .
William Smith, .
Josiah Espy, ~ .
Mary Peacock, .
John Wilson, Jr.,
William Boyd, .
Alexander Mahargue, .0 15
William Kerr 1 15
James Caldwell, .
John Means, . . .
John Willson, . .
Richard Carson, .
Joshua Elder, . .
John Elder, Jr., .
John Gilchrist, . .
Thomas Forster, .
Richard Fulton, .
Thomas Brown, .
William Wanless, .
Daniel Brunson, .
32 Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
many years.* Mr. Snowden was a profound theologian,
a faithful minister of the Gospel, and greatly beloved by
his people. We are honored to-day by the presence of
* Letter Sent to Presbytery in 1795.
Paxtang, Odr. 5, 1795.
" To the Revd. Presbytery of Carlisle about to convene at Marsh Creek
in the County of York :
" Whkreas, Mr. Snowden has signified to his congregation in Derry
Township that he is no longer able to officiate in his Ministerial capacity
to them on acct. of Inability of body, & that he purposes to apply to
Presbytery for a Discharge from said congregation which we conceive,
if he might be indulged in his Request, wou'd leave the congregation
of Paxtang in a very distressing & Perilous Situation ; that the two con-
gregations have lived for many years past in perfect peace, friendship
and unanimity, and that we do not wish for a schism between us now ;
that if the union is once broke there will be no probability of us being
united again ; that if Mr. Snowden is rendered incapable of undergoing
the fatigue of the three congregations in less than three years in the
prime of life, by all probability he will not be able in a short time to
attend to two congregations, and of consequence we shall be lefc with-
out a pastor and the means of giving a call to another. We, therefore,
pray to be considered as united with Derry, and that if Mr. Snowden
should insist on being disunited from them, that Presbytery will appoint
a committee of their body to enquire into the matter before anything
decisive may take place ; and that the majority of this congregation'
how much soever they may be attached to Mr. Snowden, wou'd rather
he should leave us as he found us, than submit to a dissolution of the
union subsisting between us.
" By order of a meeting of Paxtang congregation.
Paxtang Presbyterian Church. 33
his distinguished grand-son, Major-General George R.
Snowden, of Philadelphia.
One of Paxtang's children, resident in the west, pres-
SuppLicATioN Sent to Presbytery, 1796.
" Paxtang, Jari'y, 1796.
" To the Moderator of Carlisle Presbytery about to meet at Big Spring :
' ' By order of the Committee of Presbytery which sat at Paxtang the
3d of Nov'r last, the Congregation of Paxtang was notifyed the last
Sunday but one which we had meeting that the sense ot the Congrega-
tion wou'd be taken on the next Sabbath whether we wou'd adhere to
Harrisburg tS: break the Union with Derry, or whether we wou'd con-
tinue the Union with Derry & break off with Harrisburg. Accordingly
after sermon last Sunday the heads of families were desired to attend,
and alter the business was explained to them, we proceeded to take the
votes of the People, & it appeared that a Majority of the Congregation
was for continuing the Union with Derry and relinquishing Harris-
burg ; they likewise chose the bearer Capt'n John Rutherford as their
Commissioner to wait on Presbytery with this Remonstrance, praying
that Presbytery wou'd grant us Supplies & dissolve the Congregation of
Paxtang from their Obligations to Mr. Snowden & that he might discon-
tinue his labors to them unless ordered to supply them as any other
Supplication Sent to the Presbytery of Carlisle, 1796.
" Paxtang, Sept. 3, 1796.
" The Reverend Presbytery of Carlisle :
" Gentlemen, — Whereas we are now destitute of the Gospel Ordi-
nances being regularly administered to us, and what few supplies were
alloted for us at the last Presbytery we fell short even of these on ac-
count of the age and inability of one of the members appointed to sup-
ply us ; We, the subscribers, in behalf of this Congregation who met for
that purpose do most earnestly beg and entreat that Presbytery would
34 Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
ent here to-day, says of Mr. Snowden : " Those of Pax-
tang congregation whose memories run back sixty
years, will remember as an occasional visitor, this very
be pleased to grant as many Supplies as they can with convenience ;
we likewise wish that if there be any young or unsettled members be-
longing to Presbytery these might be sent to us that we might have an
opportunity of the Gospel once more regularly established and admin-
istered in all the forms thereto belonging ; and your Supplicants as ia
duty bound shall ever pray."
Appeal of the Paxtang Congregation to the Moderator.
" Paxtang, Oct. 1, 1797.
" To the Moderator of the Reverend Presbytery of Carlisle :
" Sir, — We again acknowledge our dependence and renew our request
in praying Presbytery to give us such and as many supplies during the
winter season as they can with convenience. The bearer, Mr. James
Rutherford, is appointed our Commissioner to present this remonstrance
to Presbytery and to answer such interrogatories as may be required of
"Signed in behalf of Paxtang congregation by
Letter to the Moderator of Carlisle Presbytery, 1798.
"Paxtang, Sept. 25, 1798.
" To the Moderator of Carlisle Presbytery :
" Sir, — The bearer, Edward Crouch, is our commissioner, appointed
by the congregation of Paxtang to wait on the Reverend Presbytery of
Carlisle with a call for the Reverend Joshua Williams for the one-third
of his labors in union with Derry, whom we expect will apply for the
remaining two-thirds ; likewise to solicit the Presbytery to gram us
Supplies in the meantime. Signed in behalf and with the approbation
of the congregation by Joshua Elder."
Paxtang Presbyterian Church. 35
worthy gentleman. In his sixties he looked hale and
vigorous, grey eyes, iron grey hair, a full face, and
weight one hundred and sixty pounds. The writer
remembers his voice as strong and sonorous, and tliat
he delivered his words with measured deliberation. He
never failed to state to his auditors two facts. First. That
Philadelphia was the place of his birth ; and secondly,
that he had heard Independence bell ring on the
morning of July 4, 1776."
A call was then given to the Rev. Joshua Williams,
who accepted the same, and he was ordained and in-
stalled October 2, 1799, Derry to receive two thirds of
his time and pay one hundred and twenty pounds, and
Paxtang one third and pay sixty pounds. This pas-
torate only lasted one year and eight months, ending
on the 30th of June, 1801. Mr. Williams seemed to
have had trouble collecting his stipends, for we find him
complaining to Presbytery, in 1803, about his salary
arrears. The moderator was directed to write to these
churches and say, " that if these arrearages are not dis-
charged before the next meeting of Presbytery, that
body would be under the disagreeable necessity of with-
holding from them that attention and regard which
they pay to churches under their care." This did not
have much effect, for we find them still unpaid in Sep-
tember, 1805. A grand-son of his, Col. Joshua Williams,
of the city of Minneapolis, has come to do reverence
Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
On May 29, 1807, Mr. James R. Sharon was installed,
"both congregations agreeing to pay the same salary as
that promised to Mr. Williams.
In 1808, the "meeting-house" and "retiring-house"
were put in thorough repair.* The latter, built about
*As a matter of interest to their descendants, now widely scattered,
we give the names of those contributing thereto :
£ s. d.
Robert Elder, . .
Edward Crouch, .
Elizabeth Gray, .
John Gray, . . .
John Wiggins, . .
Samuel Sherer, . .
John Gilchrist, . .
Robert McClure, .
John Richey, . •
Thomas Smith, . .
Thomas Elder, . .
John Carson, . .
Josiah Espy, . . .
James Awl, . . .
John Allison, . .
James Cochran, -
Ann Stephen, . .
Mary Fulton, . .
John Ross, . . .
Jean Carson, - . .
Joseph Burd, . .
Robert Gray, . .
Thomas Walker, .
John Rutherford, .
Joseph Wilson, .
Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
the period of Mr. Elder's decease, was a small log build-
ing near the church, used for meetings of session, and
as a study by the pastor during the interval between
the morning and afternoon service, and on week-days
as a school-house. The " repairs " at this time consisted
partly in the running up two board partitions, thereby
creating a vestibule at each end, with the audience-
room in the center. The partitions were of yellow pine,
as was also the ceiling, which was placed in position at
this time. The pews were left standing in the western
vestibule, and were remaining within the memory of
some of the present congregation. There was little
uniformity in the Paxtang pews of that day, as each
had been built by the family occupying it, and by their
own architect. Two huge ten-plate stoves were placed
in the long aisle, the smoke from which ascended
through pipes to the loft, and made its escape as best it
could through a small hole in the comb of the roof.
Mr. Sharon was a man of eminent piety, and was
greatly beloved by this people. His pastorate covered
a period of almost thirty -six years, and ended only with
his life, April 18, 1843. During these years the gospel
Mary Rutherford, . .
William Whitely, .
William Larned, . .
David Stewart, . .
James Stewart, . . .
Joshua Elder, . . .
Elizabeth Wills, .
Thomas Buffington, .
Hugh Stephen, . .
John Elder, . . . .
John Rutherford, .
38 Paxtaxg Presbyterian Church.
of peace reigned, and little is left for the historian but
to record the fact.*
My venerable friend, Dr. Hiram Rutherford, to whom
I am much indebted for information relating to the
"long ago," gives me these recollections of this devoted
minister : " The tall, lank figure of Mr. Sharon was one
of the fixtures and features of Paxtang, sixty years
ago. His soft, white, delicate skin, blue eyes, dark
hair, narrow chest — his soft, weak but clear voice, hack-
ing cough, etc., marked him as one short for this world.
Yet he was punctual in his duties, preached good, sen-
sible sermons, attended all christenings, marriages, and
funerals. With all odds against him, he lived his three
score and ten, and at last was gathered to his fathers,
ripe for the harvest, with eternal 'sunshine on his head.'
His residence was in Derry, and he usually came up to
Paxtang of a Saturday evening. In winter he wore a
dark colored overcoat, with a moveable cape. His
lower limbs were cased in velveteen (dark) overalls, or
as then called, cherre-valles. Mounted on his chestnut
sorrel horse, with riding whip in hand, and that hand
and arm at an angle of forty-five, he moved over the
road at a steady jog trot, mile after mile, a slender,
gaunt figure, so unique, that he was recognizable as far
*Mr. Sharon preserved a full record of his ministerial acts— marriages,
baptisms, admissions, and dismissions— which is printed in the Ap-
Dendix to this volume.
Paxtang Presbvteriax Church. 39
away as he could be seen. At recess he staid in the
log study house, generally alone, and in his passage
thence to the church, he always carried his spectacles
in his hand, greeting but few as he passed, with eyes
bent on the ground before him. Then the loud call of
Mr. Jordan would be heard, ' Mr. Sharon has gone in.'
I have heard my father speak of Mr. Elder's passage
under similar circumstances from the study house to
the church. Mr. Elder was an austere man. As he
emerged from the log building he carried in his hand a
book, with his fingers among the leaves, and his eyes
fixed ten feet ahead of him. With measured, deliberate
steps, he looked neither to the right or left, and greeted
no one on the way."
On October 1st, 1844, the Presbytery of Carlisle met
at Paxtang. A call was placed in the hands of Rev.
John M. Boggs, a licentiate of the Presbytery of Done-
gal. Mr. Boggs accepted, but asked that his ordination
be postponed until the spring meeting, in order that he
might attend the Theological Seminary at Princeton
during the winter. His request was granted, and he
was ordained April 9, 1845, and installed soon after as
pastor of Paxtang and Derry. His pastorate was un-
eventful, and was dissolved on October 6, 1847.
The field was now vacant for a period of more than
two years, during which time extensive alterations and
repairs were made. The whole inside of the building
was removed, the western door and the small window
40 Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
back of the pulpit walled up, new shingles placed upon
the roof, and a floor laid throughout the entire building,
the halls and ceiling plastered, the pulpit taken down
from its perch on the north wall, and a new one placed
at a much lower elevation against the western wall.
New pews of modern style and uniform character were
built, and the old pulpit, pews, and furniture, which
had been in use since Mr. Elder's time, were sold at
On September 28th, 1849, a call from Paxtang and
Derry was placed in the hands of Rev. Andrew D.
Mitchell, Paxtang promising three hundred dollars and
Derry two hundred per annum. Mr. Mitchell accepted,
and was ordained and installed April 10, 1850. Mr.
Mitchell was a single man when he accepted these
charges, but married a few years afterwards. Hitherto
Paxtang had never needed a parsonage. Mr. Bertram
lived near Derry on his farm ; while Mr. Elder and Mr.
Sharon, who had occupied the field for a centur}^ were
both practical agriculturalists and lived on their farms;
and Mr. Boggs was unmarried. It now, however, be-
came necessary to provide a house for Mr. Mitchell, and
the present parsonage was erected, and was occupied by
him during the remainder of his pastorate, which ended
February 12, 1874. Near the close of Mr. Mitchell's
pastorate the inside of the church was partly remodeled
and arranged pretty much as it now stands.
In November of the same year (1874) a call was made
Paxtang Presbyterian Church. 41
out for the Rev. William W. Downey by Paxtang,
Derry having died out. Mr. Downey accepted, and
was installed April 29, 1875. In 1878 this pastorate
was dissolved, and the congregation for several years
was acceptably supplied by the Rev. William A. West
On the 16th of June, 1887, having previously accept-
ed a call, the Rev. Albert B. Williamson, a graduate of
Princeton Theological Seminary, was ordained, and
continues in the pastorate.
Intimately connected with Paxtang Church was the
school which flourished from the earliest times down
to the establishment of free schools in Dauphin county.
It was never under the control of the church as an
ecclesiastical body, but the same men who composed
the congregation were the patrons of the school, and
the building itself was the property of the congregation.
It may therefore fairly be considered as an appendage of
the church, and the old masters stood next in rank and
dignity to the clergyman. Here flourished such men
as Francis Kerr, Joseph Allen, Benjamin White, James
Couples, Francis D. Cummings, and others celebrated
in their day and generation as educators, and from
whose instructions went forth many young men after-
wards distinguished in every walk of life.
Originally the congregation owned a tract of twenty
acres in the shape of a paralellogram, whose length was
about three times its width. Nearly forty years ago a
42 Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
portion of this tract was sold, leaving a square of six
or eight acres, covered largely with forest-trees, among
which are several giant oaks that were doubtless trees
when Columbus landed on the shores of America.
Near the center of the tract stands the church, the par-
sonage occupies the southeast corner, and between the
two lies the graveyard. In early times no distinct
limits were set to the burying-ground, and the people
buried their dead anywhere, according to their fancy,
in the clearing to the south and southeast of the church.
Graves were seldom marked, and a few years obliterated
all trace of them. As families became j)ermanent and
the number of these graves increased, more care was
taken, tombstones began to be erected and lots fenced
in. The want of uniformity, however, in these fences,
and of regularity in the selection of lots, rendered the
grounds very unsightly, as well as very difficult to
keep clear of weeds and briers. This state of affiiirs
existed until 1791-92, when the ground was inclosed
by a stone wall, the greater portion of which is still
standing. This wall does not by any means include
all the graves of Paxtang. It did, however, surround
all that were marked by tombstones or protected by
fences. In 1819 a new roof was placed upon the wall ;
the contractor was Matthew Humes. The ground en-
closed had very nearly all been buried over once, and
some of it twice before the wall was erected. In course
of time, therefore, it became impossible to dig a grave
Paxtang Presbyterian Church. 43
without disturbing the remains of several of the un-
known and forgotten dead. The old south wall was
(then) taken down, and during the summer of 1852
the grounds were extended ninety feet, and the whole
covered with wood, and so it stood until the summer of
1882, when the wall was again repaired, and a new
roof of wood placed thereon.
This church building is the oldest house of Presby-
terian worship in the entire State of Pennsylvania. It
has seen the revolution of years carrying away the
generations of men, their habitations and their churches.
Although the benches and the desk speak of modern
origin, yet the doors hang upon the solid posts in unison
with the stone walls, and while as now the storms of a
century and a half have left their marks, give no signs
of speedy decay.
And now, my friends, after this summary of events
transpiring in old Paxtang for one hundred and
seventy years, let us go into yonder God's Acre, far older
than the church itself. With our greatest American
poet — Longfellow :
"I like that ancient Saxon phrase, which calls
The burial ground God's Acre I It is just ;
It consecrates each grave within its walls.
And breathes a benison o'er the sleeping dust."
In my boyhood days there was over the entrance, on
a semi-circular board these lines :
"Persons entering this consecrated ground are en-
44 Paxtang Presbyterian Church.
treated not to walk or stand upon the graves or grave-
stones—such to the living are sacred,"
Bearing this injunction in mind, we will simply look
over the wall, for there is not a foot of ground where
the dead lie not. To the left of the entrance and to-
wards the north side are several generations of Elder ;
to the east rest the remains of Parson Elder of blessed
memory, — in the northwest corner his sons Colonels
Joshua and Robert Elder, both men of mark in the
Revolutionary era. East from this, not far from the
center, rest the remains of John Harris, the founder of
Harrisburg; and near by those of his son-in-law, Wil-
liam Maclay, Senator from Pennsylvania in the First
Congress of the United States. Close by and around
the latter are those of his sons-in-law, Dr. John Hall
and William Wallace. A little to the south of Elder's
grave rest the Montgomerys, one of the oldest families
in Paxtang; and on a line with them and to the south
are the remains of Andrew Stewart and his wife Mary
Dinwiddle, sister of Governor Dinwiddle, of Virginia.
They were the ancestors of the Reverend John Stew-
art, who, notwithstanding his early teachings by his
Covenanter father, accepted ordination at the hands of
the Established Church, returned to America under the
auspices of the Society for the Propagation of the Gos-
pel in Foreign Parts, missionated among the Mohawks
in the Valley of the Hudson, became a loyalist during
the Revolution, and from him have descended several
Paxtang Presbyterian Church. 45
of the most prominent personages in Canadian history.
East of this line of graves is that of Thomas Ruther-
ford, the ancestor of all the clan, many of whose de-
scendants remain steadfast to the principles and wor-
ship of old Paxtang Church — and one of whom, [Abner
Rutherford, who died September 2, 1890, aged 76] the
sturdiest oak of all, has recently fallen in the battle-
storm of life; while farther east are the remains of
William Brown, to whom the United Presbyterians are
indebted for bringing to this country those staid old
Covenanters Dobbins and Lind. Between these are
the remains of Captain Crouch, Captain Cowden, and
a little to the south those of Robert Gray, Captain Bris-
ban, (jeneral Michael Simpson, and other heroes of the
Revolution who fought and bled in defense of liberty.
Eight generations lie in that myrtle-covered grave-
yard, and yet they represent only a fraction of those
who once worshiped in this place. The thousands
who sought homes in the wide expanse of our glorious
heritage, took deep inspiration here, and the influences
for godliness which from this church have gone forth,
will not be known until the Resurrection morn. This
congregation may wander away, and this building pass
into decay, but the teachings of the saintly men who
have here gone in and out, will live on, forever, and